Housekeeping

1987

Housekeeping

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100%

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Total Count: 10

84%

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Movie Info

Housekeeping is the film in which Christine Lahti invites a guest into a living room half-submerged in water. This is hardly the oddest moment in this offbeat Bill Forsyth film (his first American production). When their mother commits suicide by driving into a lake, Idaho pre-teens Ruth Sara Walker and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) fall into the custody of their Aunt Sylvie (Lahti). This strange young woman has throughout her life made unconventionality a life form. The girls initially aren't sure what to make of their loopy guardian, but in time begin to respond differently to her. When Lucille distances herself from Sylvie's eccentricities and then moves in with a local family, Walker draws closer to the older woman. The two head out on a series of picaresque adventures together, that include stealing a rowboat and riding in boxcars, but Lucille catches wind of this and informs the authorities - who promptly threaten to revoke Sylvie's custody of Ruth. By then, however, Ruth has already begun to closely identify with Sylvie. Director Forsyth adapted his script from a novel by Marilynne Robinson.

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Critic Reviews for Housekeeping

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (2) | Fresh (10)

Audience Reviews for Housekeeping

  • Apr 16, 2010
    "And there was an end to housekeeping." (Sorry. I just love that quote.) There are rare films that I like to watch over and over again which has happened increasingly less as time goes on. Of those, three films by Bill Forsyth are prime examples that combine high quality with unmatched enjoyment. They are "Gregory's Girl," "Local Hero" and "Houskeeping" which form an informal trilogy containing characters who feel out of place. I saw "Housekeeping" for the first time in a long time in New York City last night and recall having seen it on campus shortly after it came out. And I loved it then, and love it now, especially Bill Forsyth's perfectly unassuming direction, classic dialogue and gorgeous cinematography. Basically, it is about two sisters, Ruth(Sara Walker) and Lucille(Andrea Burchill) who are left with their grandmother(Georgie Collins) in Fingerbone shortly before their mother(Margot Pinvidic) drives into a lake. The grandmother's death brings in two elderly aunts(Anne Pitoniak & Barbara Reese) who in turn contact the mother's vagabond sister Sylvie(Christine Lahti) before departing suddenly, leaving her more or less in charge. One of my prime memories of "Housekeeping" is the scene where Sylvie breaks out in laughter at an advertisement for vacuum cleaners that perfectly expresses the domesticity of the 1950's when the movie is set. When I first saw the movie, I thought she is simply rejecting traditional roles. Watching it now, I picked up on some additional dialogue which not only gives new meaning to that scene but also hints at Sylvie's dark past which she will not speak to her nieces about when they are desperately looking for information about their mother. This is important since Sylvie's relationship to her sister reflects on the present relationship between Ruth and Lucille. It also gives a deeper impression that she had some more experience in a home than otherwise indicated and explains her ambivalence towards household chores, preferring the freedom of the open road, as she takes life in stride, where the unknown is preferable to the known. In the moment, she stays longer than normal in a small town, where rules can be bent but not broken, that tolerates her eccentricity up to a point and is still haunted by a disastrous train crash decades before.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • Feb 05, 2009
    <div style="width:280px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com/photos/housekeeping-12442356"><img src="http://content6.flixster.com/photo/12/44/23/12442356_ori.jpg" border="0"/></a><div style="text-align:center;font-size:10px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com"></a> </div></div> <div style="width:280px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com/photos/housekeeping-12442359"><img src="http://content9.flixster.com/photo/12/44/23/12442359_ori.jpg" border="0"/></a><div style="text-align:center;font-size:10px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com"></a></div></div> <div style="width:280px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com/photos/housekeeping-12442332"><img src="http://content6.flixster.com/photo/12/44/23/12442332_ori.jpg" border="0"/></a><div style="text-align:center;font-size:10px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com"></a></div></div> <div style="width:280px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com/photos/housekeeping-12442335"><img src="http://content9.flixster.com/photo/12/44/23/12442335_ori.jpg" border="0"/></a><div style="text-align:center;font-size:10px;"><a href="http://www.flixster.com">Lake Nelson</a> - <I>Housekeeping</I> </div></div> <I>Housekeeping</I> (1987) DIRECTED BY: Bill Forsyth. WRITTEN BY: Bill Forsyth based on the novel by Marilynne Robinson. FEATURING: Christine Lahti,Sara Walker and Andrea Burchill. PLOT: Two orphaned girls are joined by their transient aunt who becomes their unconventional guardian in this dreamy, pensive study of nonconformity and the breaking of social mores in a restrictive 1950's environment. <I>Housekeeping</I> is a surreal atmosphere piece that questions right and wrong, debates the meaning of normality and examines the consequences of non-conformity. The story follows the erratic behavior of two teenage girls and their seemingly irresponsible caretaker. In the 1950's Pacific Northwest, a series of bizarre events unfold leading to the abandonment of two adolescent girls. In a dramatic early scene, the girls' misfit mother amiably asks some young boys for help in getting her car out of a muddy rut. When they do, she casually commits suicide in front of them by driving over a cliff. Her daughters, long abandoned by their father, become the wards of their grandmother and aunt, who see them into their early teens. When the deceased mother's sister shows up, the grandmother and great aunt disappear into the night, leaving them in the care of the newly arrived "Aunt Sylvie" (Lahtie). Sylvie, as it turns out, is an avowed nonconformist with an unconventional lifestyle and unique view of the world. Her permissive parenting evolves into the enabling of an alternative existence for her nieces. This new freedom includes skipping school, stealing boats, riding the rails, and other risky, unstructured behavioral acts which are particularly outré when performed by young women in the conservative 1950s. The film is an odyssey of self discovery as Ruth, from whose point of view the story is presented, begins to question social convention and accepted folkways. As Ruth comfortably gravitates toward Sylvie's atypical values, her sister Lucille is upset by the lack of structure and begins to embrace social norms. This evolution of the girls' characters and personalities is presented through a series of ethereal misadventures and explorations. This transition is further influenced by the recounting of early childhood impressions, and their observations of the unique geography of their home which is located on a surreal lake surrounded by wooded mountains. Different story segments are connected by symbolism of ice and snow, the depth of the huge lake they live on, and of railroads and trains, particularly a spectacular train derailment disaster that occurred many years in the past. The lake itself, a massive body of deep cold water holding the wreckage and bodies from the doomed train, embodies concepts of obstacles, boundaries, mystery and the transcendence of space and time. Ultimately and inevitably, outside authoritarian interference descends upon the trio; the tale alludes to fear of witches by the unsophisticated locals. Nonconformity is equated with a dread of the unknown. At this point, the slowly building tension between the girls' independence and the mainstream establishment comes to a rolling boil. The three must choose between two extremes, either one of which will create dramatic and permanent consequences. Some credit <I>Housekeeping</I> with exploring themes concerning transience, self reliance, dependency, female marginalization, and freedom. This may be true, but the literary eye rollers -that crowd who seek to distinguish themselves intellectually via the effete discovery of a plethora of symbolism, real or imaginary, in any work, are likely to perceive <I>Housekeeping</I> as being an exploration of feminist issues. This would not be the best interpretation of the story. <I>Housekeeping</I> is not a women's movie. It is a beautifully photographed, thought-provoking atmospheric fantasy about unconventionality and its consequences. The events are experienced from the point of view of a youngster who happens to be a girl. The choice of gender serves more to facilitate this study of social taboos than to make any sort of statement. Those who wish to interpret <I>Housekeeping</I> as being a feminist vehicle will miss the nebula for the stars. WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: "One of the strangest and best films of the year. Not a realistic movie, not one of those disease-of-the-week docudramas with a tidy solution. It is funnier, more offbeat, and too enchanting to ever qualify on those terms." Roger Ebert, <I>Chicago Sun-Times</I>
    Pamela D Super Reviewer

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